Family, Self

How To Answer Pesky Questions About Your Love Life

woman hiding behind a door frame

When are you going to give me grandchildren?

Why did you break up with Paul? He was so
So, are you seeing anyone?

If you've ever heard a question like this and not known what to say, you're not alone. "I have so many clients who freeze when they get asked these types of questions," says dating and relationship coach and YourTango Expert Marni Battista. Your life is your own, and you should only talk about things you're comfortable sharing. Here's how you can steer clear of these potential social landmines.

Prepare beforehand. 

What are you comfortable sharing and with whom? The answer to that question likely changes with the person, and/or the amount of spiked eggnog you've consumed. Before entering into any social situation, anticipate what might come your way and decide what you're OK revealing. That way you won't end up telling the family about your "new boyfriend," i.e. the guy who g-chats you but refuses to ever, EVER make plans.

Focus on the positive. 

Identify a few things that have happened in your life that you are happy to talk about, says Battista: "If you are a person whose default tendency when under the gun leans toward uncertainty and self-doubt, take time before the conversation to anchor yourself to your values, rights and long-term goals." So when Aunt Honey asks if there's a particular fella in your life right now, answer her right back with an enthusiastic, "Actually, auntie, I've got something way more exciting to announce: I finished top ten in the Marine Corps Marathon this year." Or, "I got a huge promotion at work! I'm supervising 250 people now." We're sure there's at least one thing in your life you'd be proud to share.

Effectively and graciously set boundaries. 

Remember that you have a choice about what you divulge, says dating and life coach and YourTango Expert Shirley Vollett. "Answer as truthfully as you desire... don't give out any information that you don't want to," she says.

To set boundaries, Marni Battista recommends "a three-step response that allows the person asking to 'save face' and enables the person being asked to stop feeling ashamed when the answers aren't what they believe the asker is looking for." Here is Battista's Combat-Free Communication System. Her example uses the question, "Why are you still single?" but the format works for any unwanted question:

  • Acknowledge and show understanding of the other person's feelings. I know you think I am so amazing and want me to find that perfect person, and I so appreciate that you are checking in on me and asking.
  • State your needs clearly. But I am at a place right now where I don't want to talk about my personal life.
  • Create an opportunity to collaborate with him or her to resolve the challenge. I can say that I'm really clear on what I want and how to get it, so the best thing to do is to trust that when I have news I want to share, I'll let you know.

"When setting a boundary, make sure you are SPECIFIC and clear," says Battista. "Often, if there is room for interpretation, the receiver will take this space and create his or her own version of the boundary, using his/her interpretation as an excuse to wiggle and manipulate."

Be direct, then distract.

Sometimes, however, the asker doesn't need your acknowlegement, nor a pledge to follow up with news when the time is right. In those cases, keep it brief and direct. "I'm not ready to talk about that right now." "That feels really personal to me, and I'm not comfortable talking about it." "No comment." "Nothing to report, sorry!" Introduce another conversation topic right after your direct response. Weird news is always a good distraction. Check out our Tomfoolery blog for funny stories, including one on the world's tallest couple and another on how the economy is affecting swingers clubs.

Hit 'em with humor.

Other times, a little humor can deflect an unwanted question. To the dreaded "So, are you seeing anyone?" question, dating coach and YourTango expert Julie Spira suggests responding with "I have 20/20 vision. I see people all the time!"

Just make sure not to get too self-deprecating with your retorts or you could end up on the wrong side of polite laughter, à la Bridget Jones:

WONEY: Why is it there are so many unmarried women in their thirties these days, Bridget?

BRIDGET: Oh, I don't know. Suppose it doesn't help that underneath our clothes, our entire bodies are covered in scales.

Give them what they want.

When dealing with loved ones, these personal questions can just be entreaties for closeness and intimacy—they simply want to know how their all-grown-up is niece doing. So why not give them what they're really after—on your terms. Let them know that you're in a great place right now, or give them other indicators that things are OK. Oftentimes, that's all they're looking for.

The most important thing to remember, says relationship coach and YourTango Expert Micaela Bubola, is to come from a calm and diplomatic place. Don't get defensive; just kindly let them know that you're not going to answer.

What questions are you dreading this holiday season? And how are you going to deal with them?